Football

Chelsea's Roman empire strikes back

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Abramovich bought the club in June 2003 (©GettyImages)
Abramovich bought the club in June 2003 (©GettyImages).

To win silver at the end of the season, club's have to be willing to spend some gold. In the Premier League money talks, and often, it talks a winning game.

Roman Abramovich's arrival in June 2003 elevated Chelsea from a perennial also-ran, to title-winning juggernaut in the blink of an eye. Likewise, ten years ago Manchester City were battling away in the Championship. A decade later - supported by their Abu Dhabi benefactors - City won their first Premier League title.

Sheikh Mansour's spending has put Abramovich in the shade, but the Russian has struck back this summer, beating the Manchester club to the signing of Eden Hazard. But City have spent close to £400m since 2008, and have assembled a squad capable of challenging for years to come, demonstrating the power of their chequebook.

Across Manchester, the Red Devils previously enjoyed the capacity to out-spend their rivals, while Arsenal's trophy drought corresponds to a net transfer spend of -£40million. Since their 2005 FA Cup win, the Gunners have scrimped and saved, pursuing a policy of frugality long before the age of austerity made it fashionable to do so.

Abramovich was the original Premier League benevolent benefactor, his presence single-handedly upsetting the top-flight duopoly previously enjoyed by Arsenal and Manchester United.

The Russian's arrival displaced Arsenal, as Wenger's side began their gradual slide from the summit, but the arrival of Manchester City risks relegating Chelsea into the pack destined only to squabble over Champions League qualification.

The Roman empire has already shown signs of creaking. A sixth-place finish this year was partly masked by an FA Cup victory and a thrilling maiden Champions League win, but some had already begun to question Abramovich's commitment.

After landing in west London nine years ago, the Russian owner promptly set about overhauling the squad. Under Ranieri, £153million was spent bringing in the likes of Claude Makelele, Hernan Crespo, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff.

But Rome wasn't built in a day, and success is rarely immediate, even after such an outlay. Still, Ranieri was fed to the lions after a single trophyless season, but the foundations were laid for the success which was to follow.

In came Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Mourinho for the 2004/05 season. Arjen Robben was sensational, Carvalho and John Terry looked impregnable and Makelele revolutionised the holding midfield role, as the 'Special One' guided Chelsea to back-to-back Premier League titles.

But once the chequebook was put away, the success dried up. Chelsea spent £75million over the next three seasons, but took in close to £85million. Trophies returned once the net spend ratcheted up again, and Chelsea have spent more than they have taken in since Carlo Ancelottli's 2009/10 double win.

Manchester City, likewise, have spent hugely, but that's more a reflection of how off a title challenge they were when the new ownership took over. Since Sheikh Mansour's arrival, City have a net spend above £99m in every season but one - last year's was just under £50m. In contrast, Manchester United's net spend in the same period has been largely equal, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's £80m Madrid move.

Arsenal, of course, have spent less than they've taken in, and have suffered. Success is not the only factor determining success, but it's certainly one of the most important. Money does buy trophies, and it has throughout Premier League history.

Even Blackburn's sole title triumph in the 1994/95 season was inspired by the signing of Alan Shearer for a British transfer record fee of £3.3m.

And since the arrival of the benefactors it's only going to get more important, even with the imminent Financial Fair Play regulations. Huge stadium rights deals, and lucrative sponsorship agreements cover declining matchday incomes, while the Champions League prize pot swells with every passing season.

So it's no surprise that Abramovich is back, inspired by the Champions League victory and, importantly for Chelsea fans, seemingly eager to build on the unexpected success. The signing of Hazard for £32m was a first victory for the Russian in his battle of the benefactors with Sheikh Mansour, and a deal is reportedly done to bring Hulk to Stamford Bridge for £38m.

Marko Marin has already committed, and will join in the summer from Werder Bremen. By early June, Abramovich, without a manager in place, has already got a significant headstart on the Manchester clubs.

A few months ago, Chelsea were ageing, tired and written off. The Blues looked like they had no plan to replace their squad assembled in the Mourinho era. But Chelsea fans can now see a future beyond Drogba, Lampard, and Terry. In the space of a month, the Blues won two trophies, signed the most highly-rated young star in European football, and are poised to replace Drogba with a similarly muscular Brazilian international.

Abramovich has delivered a statement of intent, and he's begun the process of putting together a second great Stamford Bridge team.

Chelsea were a long way off the title last year but already they look much closer. In the Premier League, money can do that.

Topics:
Football
Chelsea
Premier League
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